Baltimore Co. to again consider bill banning landlords from denying applicants for using vouchers

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The Baltimore County Courthouse. Photo by James G. Howes, via Wikipedia.

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. is filing legislation for his council colleagues to take up on Monday that would bar landlords from discriminating against applicants using federal housing vouchers, as Baltimore City, Howard County and numerous other jurisdictions have done.

Olszewski announced the legislation, dubbed the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (or HOME) Act, this morning in front of the Baltimore County Historic Courthouse in Towson.

The bill is required as part of a three-year-old agreement the county signed to settle a discrimination complaint brought by Baltimore County’s NAACP chapter, several residents and advocates in 2011. They accused the county of clustering low-income, largely black populations together over time, rather than pushing to build affordable housing in more prosperous areas and trying to desegregate communities.

The bill, which Olszewski is actually required to introduce annually until it’s passed under that 2016 settlement agreement, would make it illegal for a landlord to deny a potential tenant based on source of income, regardless of what job, public assistance programs, public benefits and other financial assets it comes from.

“We’re here today because we believe that every person–every person–deserves the chance to provide their families with safe and affordable place to call home,” Olszewski said today. “I’ve consistently said that we have both a legal and a moral obligation to expand access to affordable housing here in Baltimore County.”

He noted a large share of voucher recipients are seniors, people with disabilities and families “simply trying to do what’s best for them and their children” by applying to live in areas with better schools and economic opportunities.

“Our residents deserve fair and equal access to housing, they deserve expanded economic opportunity, improved equity and the elimination of pockets of poverty throughout Baltimore County.”

Howard, Frederick and Montgomery counties have had such anti-discrimination policies in place for years, he noted, and both Baltimore City and Anne Arundel joined that group of jurisdictions within the last year.

He already has two allies already in Council Chairman and 4th District representative Julian Jones and Izzy Patoka, whose 2nd District includes Pikesville, Owings Mills, Reisterstown and other communities in the county’s northwest end.

Currently permitted source-of-income discrimination, like turning someone down because they’re using a Section 8 voucher, is “horrendous and horrible” and “drives people to places or pockets of poverty that we’re trying to eliminate,” Jones said.

“We cannot continue to do the same things the same way we did in 1960, in 1970, in 1980 or the 1990s,” added Patoka. “We’re in the 21st century.”

Marsha Parham-Green, executive director of the Baltimore County Office of Housing, said the estimated 5,000 county households receiving vouchers already face an “overwhelming shortage” of options to choose from, and it’s currently even further limited by landlords who can turn them away because they’re using subsidies and assume they’ll become problem tenants.

Baltimore County lawmakers resisted such a change several years ago. Olszewski’s predecessor, the late Kevin Kamenetz, introduced similar legislation only for it to be rejected 6-1 by the council.

Democrat Cathy Bevins, whose 6th District includes eastern areas of the county, opposed the bill, citing complaints from constituents that they would see a flood of voucher users moving into their districts, per The Avenue News. Republican Todd Crandell of Dundalk said he was philosophically opposed to such mandates, saying “I don’t believe in the strategy” and “programs like this have always failed.” Republican David Marks, of Perry Hall, said he wants to instead see the private sector fix the problem instead by creating more jobs and helping to eliminate poverty.

WYPR is reporting Marks, Crandell and Cockeysville Republican Wade Kach already plan to oppose the bill after it’s introduced Monday.

The county is already required to start actively trying to desegregate those same “pockets” Jones referenced.

In its 2016 lawsuit settlement, it also agreed to spend $30 million through 2026 to incentivize developers to build 1,000 homes for low-income families in more affluent neighborhoods, and to help 2,000 families receiving rent subsidies to move from poorer areas to better-integrated neighborhoods, The Sun reported.

Ethan McLeod
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